Ditch The Paintball Fights: Here’s a Better Way to Do Team-Building

By Diana Hembree

MoneyGeek and Abuv Media co-CEO Dan Schuessler (third from the left ) and employees in a can-can line

Remember all-hands paintball fights, trust falls, and two-truths-and-a-lie marathons? The trouble with those team-building exercises is that they make introverts run for cover. For a recent all-hands meeting involving MoneyGeek.com and its parent company, Abuv Media, an online content and website company based in Reno, Nevada, the companychose an activity that everyone could get behind: movie-making. It turned out to be one of the best team building decisions it ever made.

MoneyGeek chose six teams at random, each of which had to shoot a mini-movie in 60 to 90 minutes. The short time frame was part of the challenge: You had only one and a half minutes to shoot each scene, so there was a lot of chaos and laughter as people scrambled to make the deadlines. The beauty of making short videos is that whether you are extroverted or introverted, you can choose a role where you feel at home: director, producer, writer, costumer, videographer, or actor.

It got the inspiration and equipment from The Go Game, a company that specializes in creative team building. For each team, Go Game supplied an IPhone along with a box of costumes for each movie genre, which ranged from film noir, drama and horror to comedy, sci-fi and Western. The preloaded IPhone also generated scene-by-scene instructions for teams making their masterpieces — a kind of ultra-compressed movie-making 101 — that covered character development, plot twists and how to build scenes that move inexorably toward a rousing finale. (Below are some stills from the different mini-movies the team made and watched at a screening later that day.)

Company mini-movie: Film noir genre

In the end, the teams weren’t just making movies, they were building emotional intelligence. As the authors of a Harvard Business Review article note, that sort of intelligence can help teams as well as individuals boost their performance at work. Here’s some of what the company learned:

Lesson 1: Great team-building exercises can bring out hidden creativity in your workforce

You might expect that the more introverted employees would seize on a great behind-the-scene role like videographer, and some did. But other employees — normally quiet and hunkered down at work — chose to play sheriffs, ranchers, burglars, villains, vamps, spies, heroes and space aliens. A managing editor who used to work in television contributed to some awesome special effects, but other talents were more unexpected: The data analyst with a flair for acting, the operations leader turned ace stand-up comic, the monetization specialist who was pitch-perfect as a director.

“I was surprised to have been unanimously selected by my teammates to be the movie’s lead character; in my day-to-day at the company, I felt like relatively small fries,” wrote a marketing associate who directed her team’s film. “It was an exciting opportunity to lead and be completely involved in the direction of a project.”

Lesson 2: Creative thinking encourages employees to reach out for help — and get it

Looking for some local color, the team making a Western raced to a historic swinging-door saloon in Reno, where a villain-turned-hero persuaded the patrons to become part of the action. In a key scene, he shouts “Who’s with me?!” and a table of strangers erupts in frenzied cheers and leaps to their feet — the highlight of the movie. As the team prepared to shoot the finale, a waitress gave us permission to shoot in the back rooms, adding: “Hey, what company did you say you were from? Because you’re having so much fun I seriously want to come work there!”

Mini-movie: Western genre

Lesson 3) Through imaginative collaboration, you create something more powerful than you can on your own

Some things, like writing a novel, are better done alone. But a film or video requires close teamwork. Anyone who has ever worked on a movie (or even watched one) gets a glimpse of the magic you can only get from dozens or even hundreds of hands. It’s a collaboration in which the sum — give or take a few theatrical stinkers — is almost always greater than the parts. Look no further than the Hallelujah-scored scene in the original Shrek, familiar to just about anyone with children of a certain age. From the exquisite animation, script, editing and direction to the incomparable lyrics and vocals, the Dreamworks scene is pure artistic genius. MoneyGeek’s tiny, haiku-like movies were a keyhole into that rich universe, and some of the talents unearthed in our team-building exercise would later surface in ideas for new projects in our workplace.

Mini-movie: Fantasy sci-fi genre

Lesson 4) Getting outside your comfort zone can be fun

People in many workplaces are reluctant to get outside their comfort zone, and sometimes for good reason. But movie-making and other creative team building encourages it. In MoneyGeek’s case, most of the randomly chosen movie crews included engineers, editors, analysts, sales and marketing and web development folks, all of whom had to work together to troubleshoot, say, a plot problem or sagging costume. It was a definite step out of the comfort zone, but a better way for employees to get to know each other than exchanging pleasantries at the water cooler. The good thing about making videos is that you can choose how far from your comfort zone you want to get — no one is put on the spot.

In our mini-movies, some bosses played villains who were arrested, handcuffed, or bombarded with lasers. As one employee put it: “I had to yell at my boss during the movie, and I actually quite enjoyed it!” Such empowering role reversals in a safe setting could pave the way to reverse mentoring in the future.

Mini movie: Romantic comedy genre

The day of the shoot, after all the teams rushed back to the office with their movies in the can, the Go Game rep edited them for a mock-Oscars vote and screening after dinner. What floored us? The amount of creativity that went into each production.

“Groups are most creative when their members collaborate unreservedly,” according to the Harvard Business Review article. “People stop holding back when there’s mutual trust.” There’s little doubt the movie-making deepened the mutual trust among colleagues. One editor wrote that after the shoot, she felt closer to her crew, a group she didn’t interact with regularly at work. “It felt really good to create something like this as a group,” said another. “It makes you realize you can do things you never even thought about.”

Doug Jones, co-CEO of MoneyGeek.com and Abuv, up to some skullduggery in the rom-com video

Diana Hembree, a science writer for the Center for Youth Wellness, is a former senior editor at Time Inc. and the former director of content at MoneyGeek.com, a personal finance media site that helps consumers make smart decisions about insurance, mortgages, credit, and other financial issues.